How climate change affects rural poor

Group discussion conducted by Trócaire field staff and Caritas local partners in Chiholomba village, Balaka, Malawi Credits: Trocaire

Group discussion conducted by Trócaire field staff and Caritas local partners in Chiholomba village, Balaka, Malawi
Credits: Trocaire

Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) and our partner agencies in the developing world are responding to the challenge of more extreme weather patterns. In order for our response to be as effective as possible, we need a better understanding of how climate variability interacts with poverty and vulnerability.

In 2009, Trócaire commissioned a two year study aimed at providing a more detailed understanding of how rural households in the developing world are experiencing changes in the climate, and the ways in which they are coping with and adapting their livelihoods to deal with new, as well as existing, challenges.

The research is taking place in four countries – Bolivia, Honduras, Kenya and Malawi – in communities where Trócaire is already supporting livelihoods work.

These communities are well accustomed to variable and extreme weather. Droughts, floods or tropical storms have long been a feature of everyday life. More recent changes in climate patterns are, however, posing new challenges.

The area of research in Bolivia is the Altiplano Highlands region where communities are experiencing out-of-season hail and frost, more intense sunshine, increasing temperatures and drought.

In Honduras the research area is on the northern coast where communities are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, tropical storms and flooding.

The research in Kenya is taking place in Tharaka, a semi-arid district in lower eastern Kenya, where agro-pastoralist communities are coping with more frequent and severe droughts.

In Malawi the area of research is in Balaka, an area near Lake Malawi in the southern part of the country. Drought, changing rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are the major issues affecting communities here.

Surveys and group discussions are conducted every four months by Trócaire field staff and our local partners – CIPCA (Bolivia), Popol Nah Tun (Honduras), Diocese of Meru (Kenya) and CADECOM (Malawi). Staff in Trócaire’s head office are responsible for cross-country co-ordination and analysis. Technical support for this project is provided by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex (IDS).

This study differs from many others in its repeated observations over long periods of time. With a high level of accompaniment and familiarisation with the study communities, this research is well placed to offer examples of how people are experiencing changes in their environment and how they are tackling these changes.

The research aims to identify some of the strategies small-holder farmers and land workers have at their disposal to increase their opportunities to cope and to adapt in the context of climatic changes. These opportunities can include the capacities households have to avoid the negative impacts of climatic shocks and their ability to make use of local or external opportunities, such as drawing on support from local groups, NGOs or government agencies. While the fieldwork will not be completed until Autumn 2011, and a final report is not expected until early 2012, the following are some initial impressions from the data.

Across the four case studies, it is clear that households are adapting their livelihoods in response to a variety of factors. In addition to changes in weather patterns, social, cultural and political shifts are occurring across the four countries, such as migration in Bolivia or the loss of traditional structures and modernisation in Kenya, all of which are impacting on households’ overall resilience.

The influence of external factors on households’ access to and choice of adaption strategies is also apparent. For example, in Malawi the Farm Input Subsidy Programme provides subsidies for a relatively narrow model of agriculture which influences, and perhaps limits the type of agriculture, and adaptation, practiced.

Therefore it can be said that external opportunities, supports or influences, such as modernisation in Kenya or government policy in Malawi, interact with local factors and may or may not lead to an improved ability to tackle climate stressors.

For more information, please contact: Ciara Kirrane, Environmental Justice Intern, Trócaire,


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